LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Six local priority schools recently examined by the Kentucky Department of Education showed signs of improvement, but they all have room for growth as they work to boost student achievement, according to diagnostic reports released Friday by Jefferson County Public Schools.

KDE conducted reviews at Marion C. Moore School, Olmsted Academy North and Western High School from Jan. 21 through Jan. 24 and Westport Middle School, Roosevelt-Perry Elementary School and Thomas Jefferson Middle School from Feb. 5 through Feb. 8.

KDE staff observed classes, interviewed school staff and stakeholders, and reviewed performance data as part of their evaluations. None of the six schools reached established performance targets during the 2016-17 school year, and all lagged the state average in students who scored proficient or distinguished in annual testing, although some showed improvements in certain categories.

“Today’s state reviews indicate that, overall, these six schools are implementing transformative efforts to strengthen culture and climate and create optimal learning environments for all students,” said acting JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio. “We appreciate the important work of the assessments teams and welcome their feedback on how our schools can continue to improve.”

Reviewers scored each school on a four-point scale in seven categories – equitable learning, high expectations, supportive learning, active learning, progress monitoring, well-managed learning and digital learning.

Here’s what KDE auditors observed at the six JCPS priority schools and their recommendations for improvements:

Thomas Jefferson Middle School

KDE staff noted that Thomas Jefferson students there “exhibited friendly relationships with their teachers” and “interacted respectfully with teachers and classmates” and that educators “supported students, involved them in classroom activities and actively ensured they understood classroom assignments and activities.”

However, student performance issues emerged during their visit to Thomas Jefferson.

“Few students were able to describe or provide examples of high quality work,” KDE auditors wrote. “Most students did exactly what they were asked. Other than obtaining the right answer, the criteria for excellence was not consistently clarified.

“Students, typically, did not self-direct their own learning; rather, most lessons were teacher-organized and seldom included student self-assessment. Few opportunities existed for students to self-monitor or record their progress. It also was unclear how student work was assessed.”

The department recommended that Thomas Jefferson’s staff focus on setting high expectations for students, develop a more rigorous curriculum to boost student performance and work to recruit and retain quality teachers.

Olmsted Academy North

After 28 classroom visits, KDE staff found supportive and congenial environments for students in most classes. Seventy percent of students reported that in at least half of their classes, teacher acknowledged their strengths or achievements.

However, auditors said that the school can improve the frequency and quality of technology access for students as well as the rigor of its coursework.

KDE recommended that Olmsted administrators develop and monitor a process that sets high expectations while also providing personalized learning for students and integrate more digital resources in teaching.

“The Diagnostic Review Team found that although the school used data to evaluate the effectiveness of different improvement initiatives and to develop a formal process to build teacher capacity through a professional learning program (i.e., Office of Teacher Support), these strategies had not resulted in consistent improvements in student growth,” auditors wrote.

Marion C. Moore School

KDE conducted 39 observations at Marion C. Moore and found students often weren’t exposed to demanding coursework and didn’t completely understand how their work was assessed.

“Classroom observation data revealed students were rarely exposed to differentiated learning opportunities, high expectations or rigorous course work. Students had few differentiated learning tasks or ongoing activities to connect classwork with their own and others’ backgrounds and real-life experiences,” auditors wrote.

“In most classrooms, varied instructional practices were seldom observed and minimal opportunities existed for students to understand how their learning connected to the realities of their lives.”

KDE staff noted that Marion C. Moore hired a new principal after the agency’s 2016 evaluation of the school who was able to develop a culture of inclusiveness and fairness, something students and parents noted in interviews with auditors.

Teachers also told KDE reviewers that they wanted to see their students succeed and improve their achievement.

KDE staff recommended that school administrators craft a plan for continuous academic improvement, develop teaching plans that use high-yield strategies like active learning and higher order thinking, and implement a system to track learning gains in students.

Western High School

KDE auditors found room for improvement at Western in all seven categories it used to score school performance during its 21 classroom visits, with the lowest scores based on the school’s digital learning environment.

“The Diagnostic Review Team rarely observed technology being used by students,” reviewers wrote. “Interview data supported the need to enhance the technology infrastructure and increase student engagement with educational technology.”

Auditors noted that Western is embracing its inclusion in the Academies of Louisville program to help improve student achievement. The school also started an Early College program that allows students to earn college credit through Jefferson Community and Technical College and implemented the Fundamental 5 methodology, which uses five high-yield teaching methods that usually improve student engagement and academic progress.

Auditors said that the school should continue focusing on its Fundamental 5 program, establish higher standards for teaching and learning, and develop a method for administrators to offer feedback to all staff members about their performance.

Roosevelt-Perry Elementary School

During their 12 classroom observations, KDE auditors found that although Roosevelt-Perry is a technology magnet school, students did not often implement digital tools in their learning and “rarely engaged in rigorous coursework, discussions and/or tasks that required higher order thinking.”

“Few students could describe high quality work,” the KDE review team wrote. “Classroom observation data further revealed a lack of students collaborating with peers to accomplish/complete projects, activities and/or assignments. Use of differentiated instructional practices and exemplars to guide student work were limited practices.”

Still, auditors found a supportive learning environment at Roosevelt-Perry, with many resources available to administrators to implement programs and provide professional development for teachers.

The school’s principal has also worked to boost the number of certified staff at the school and external wrap-around services available to students, according to the report.

“Students expressed that they liked to attend school as evidenced by the 98 percent student attendance rate reported in the Roosevelt-Perry Elementary School Quarterly Report,” the KDE review team wrote.

Auditors recommended that the school monitor the effectiveness of its instructional practices and programs, establish a culture of high expectation for students, teachers and administrators, and develop a method to monitor instruction and ensure it meets the individual needs of students.

Westport Middle School

KDE auditors conducted 61 classroom visits at Westport and concluded that while classes general had supportive environments, the school can improve in all seven of the diagnostic team’s scoring categories.

“The Diagnostic Review Team specifically identified that the following learning conditions were infrequently or inconsistently observed: 1) differentiated instruction to meet the needs of all students, 2) authentic student engagement, 3) opportunities for students to learn about their own and others’ background/cultures/differences, 4) opportunities for students to engage in rigorous coursework, discussion or tasks, 6) understanding of how their work is assessed and 7) use of technology by students as a learning tool,” the review team wrote.

“Collectively, these findings illuminated a need for increased curriculum rigor and effective classroom instructional strategies.”

Auditors said that administrators and teachers demonstrated that they cared about their students and worked to develop an inclusive educational environment. KDE staff also noted efforts to improve on deficiencies previously identified at the school.

KDE reviewers said Westport administrators should work to develop research-based instructional practices, facilitate and monitor the implementations of its curriculum, and create a process to monitor the effectiveness of programs, school initiatives and student learning improvements.

Reach reporter Kevin Wheatley at 502-585-0838 and kwheatley@wdrb.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevinWheatleyKY.

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